Increasing injuries for snowboarders prompt call for use of helmets

One of the most comprehensive studies of snow-related accidents has revealed a significant increase in serious snowboarding injuries and has prompted renewed calls for the wearing of helmets by snowboarders.

The  study into more than 5000 accidents in Victoria, which is about to be submitted for publication in a medical journal, comes after the deaths of three snowboarders this month.

The research by the Federation University Australia covers the period between 2003 and 2012 and shows a 170 per cent increase in emergency department presentations for snowboarders and a 100 per cent increase in hospital-treated injuries.

Seriousness of the injuries sustained by skiers and snowboarders is indicated by the fact that half (51 per cent) of those who went to emergency departments were then admitted to hospital.

Males accounted for two thirds of those injured (64 per cent) with just over half (52 percent) injured in snowboarding accidents. Of the women injured a third (34 per cent) were injured snowboarding, which may indicate that more prefer to opt for skiing.

Emma Siesmaa, Research Associate at the Australian Centre for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention, said there was an increase in participation in snowboarding which was more appealing to young men.

"Males like risk-taking sports, they like the sense of adventure and they like to be challenged even in the light of possibly getting injured which might make it more appealing as well," Dr Siesmaa said. "The 15 to 24 age group make up about a quarter of the participation of all age groups but they are injured at a higher rate than they participate which would signify they are participating at a riskier level. Males probably push the limits a little bit more than females."

The study also showed that snowboarders were more likely to sustain upper extremity injuries (54 per cent of their injuries) due to having falls on outstretched arms. By comparison skiers were more likely to suffer lower extremity injuries (47 per cent). Fractures accounted for almost half (46 per cent) of injuries with 62 per cent of people with these injuries hospitalised. Some 40 per cent sustained dislocation and soft tissue injuries with more than a third (37 per cent) ending up hospitalised. Head and spine injuries were less common at 7 per cent but were likely to be more serious with 80 per cent of them requiring the individual to be hospitalised.

Dr Siesmaa, a spokeswoman for Sports Medicine Australia, added: "Given that snowboarding participation is on the rise and there are head injuries and deaths still occuring I think we need to compare it to what is happening in America and Europe, where snow sports are more popular, and use their strategies to prevent injuries from occuring.

"Things like mandatory use of helmets that we haven't enforced is something we could look into. Particularly in North America and some resorts in Canada it is compulsory, particularly for children, to wear helmets but also if you enter terrain parks with jumps and stunts.

"I think before any legislation is put in place we would have to test whether helmets are effective in reducing injuries. There are grounds for enforcing helmets for children, in terrain parks and where people are competing. I think that would be a good starting point. Testing of helmets is something we would like to do.

"We also need more skier and snowboarder knowledge. There are people who go [to the snow] for one day and don't know anything about the dangers and who just go hell for leather and get injured and wonder why."

The bodies of snowboarders Martie Buckland and Daniel Kerr were recovered last week after an avalanche at Mount Bogong in Victoria. Queenslander Gerard Berger died in Perisher on July 2.

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